They say that the third time’s a charm, but I don’t know if that phrase is relevant to surgery. Our experience started with a “thud” instead of a “bang.”
Thankfully, the surgical team reassigned Alexander’s surgery for early morning instead of his original afternoon slot. You can only imagine how difficult it would be to explain to a two year old why they can’t eat anything for half a day. Even though Alexander was up much earlier than normal and still in his dinosaur jammies, he made a brief attempt of his Plea For Yogurt(tm) until I was able to distract him and get him bundled and into the car.
Alexander’s surgery was once again at Comer, so we were well-prepared to make the brief hike from the World’s Smallest Waiting Room (that doesn’t allow food) to the incredibly spacious and beautiful Sky Lobby across the street. Because of the high incidence of influenza, the waiting room was stripped clean of toys; I really felt for the families we saw later in the day with children camped out for hours in this small, cramped space. With Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on full-blast, Alexander proceeded to expend his toddler-ific morning energy happily shrieking and running around. We took turns following closely behind our little man as he wobbled around the waiting room. Brian and I were both all-smiles, and I thought to myself, “We’ve got this one.” For any of you parents out there, you know that is the exact thing to think when you want all heck to break loose.
As if Alexander could read our thoughts, he toddled over to a kid’s chair, sat in it, and faster than you can say “thud,” little man did a face plant into the carpet. Almost like a record scratch, the entire waiting room’s collective head turned to our little corner and watched as we scraped our wailing little son off the floor. Timing couldn’t be any more perfect, as the pre-op nurse called our names to come back. I swear I could almost hear her say “Parents of the Year Kelly family?” as we tried to console our now hysterical son and cart him into the surgical area. So just like that, we went from a smiley, happy boy to a crying toddler with a nasty, bleeding rug burn on his forehead and a slightly cut lip.
For as traumatizing as his little fall was, that was just about it for the morning’s negative surprises. After we cleaned Alexander’s scrapes up and settled him down, within minutes the anesthesia team and the remainder of the Surgical Medical Personnel Parade took place, and our little guy once again unwillingly donned his gown. I think we gained a little “hospital cred” when I specifically requested the koalas in spaceships gown– they originally pulled out something else, and I knew it would be too big. Handing Alexander over to the team at The Red Line didn’t get any easier. As you might guess, the hand-off has to be fast, as the anesthesia team tries to minimize the trauma/fear of separation. This was the first (and hopefully last) time that I quickly handed Alexander over to the doctor and walked away; it really is a painful feeling to hear your child wailing and screaming “Lala!” as you make a quick exit.
We immediately went to the Sky Lobby across the street, had breakfast, and settled in for a long wait. When we asked our surgeon about approximate surgical time, he indicated that this was going to be the long one, and that we should assume at least three hours, but with set-up, anesthesia, and closing, that it would might be even longer. With that in mind, you can understand how shocked we were to get a call maybe an hour and a half into our wait with news from the OR that they were wrapping up.
We understandably were a little panicked during our walk back to the Comer waiting room, but our surgeon’s smile when he came through the door was immediate relief. After the obligatory handshake, he gave us the incredible news that “everything just sorta flowed and came together” making the surgery unbelievably quick. Within a few minutes, we were whisked back into post-surgical recovery, and we got to see our sleepy little man. Alexander was a little whiny, but we could immediately tell he handled the surgery well. He wanted to sit up, much to the chagrin of the PACU (post-anesthesia care unit), and he was signing wildly (with one hand slightly immobilized with an IV board) for “more yogurt, please!”
After several hours of recovery, Food Network, and waiting for an open room (thanks to a completely influenza-booked hospital), we were transferred to a room. Alexander renewed his request for yogurt, which was sadly not possible due to his dietary orders, and he settled into a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse-induced stupor. Brian and I were able to order up dinner trays for ourselves along with Alexander; although I wouldn’t call the hospital food gourmet by any standard, dinner that night tasted incredible– mostly a result of being starving and somewhat exhausted. Brian eventually called it a night and headed home, and the kidlet and I eased into some more Food Network and a rather uncomfortable futon. (Apparently, Alexander either really likes Robert Irvine or highly dislikes HGTV. Anytime I tried switching the tv to something other than Restaurant Impossible, it was met with incredibly negative feedback. Go figure!)
Alexander continues to amaze me with just how adaptable he is, given a few things he’s unwilling to bend on. After he scarfed down his entire dinner (clear liquids, but still…), we began his normal evening routine before bed. We said night prayers, I cleaned him up a little, turned down the lights, and handed him Kokkonisto. Much to my surprise, Alexander sat straight up in bed and began howling, even after I turned out the lights and reduced the television volume. It wasn’t until I started making up my bed that I realized what he wanted. Alexander normally sleeps near, but not directly under some small blankets. Because he was incredibly warm, we didn’t tuck him under any blankets when he was placed in his hospital crib. I immediately pulled the pillowcase off my hospital parent pillow, and lightly placed it over his legs. He squealed, pulled it up under his chin, and made the sign for “blanket.” Immediately, he laid back clutching Kokko, turned to his side, and was snoring in minutes.
Though the night was filled with occasional cries of pain, my leaping up to find a nurse for various issues, and seemingly endless little requests for water and juice, Alexander woke up requesting (say it with me!) “more yogurt, please.” The residents did their rounds, and our surgical team stopped by to watch Alexander demonstrate his animal noise book. (They all seemed incredibly surprised to see him sitting up, smiling, and playing away the day after his surgery.) I visited the family lounge while he was still a little groggy in order to find some caffeine, and I ran into several other moms seeking coffee. Later on in the morning, I walked down the hallway and heard the painful howls of their kids– and it really hit my heart. It’s hard to realize how incredibly great you have it when you’re fully consumed with the care of your child, but hearing and seeing children undergoing a similar surgery fairing far worse really puts things in perspective.
Though Alexander was more than ready to pack up his sheep and head home, we utilized an expert phlebotomist on staff to fill a few remaining adoption clinic blood tests in the morning. By the time Brian returned in late morning, the surgery team and nurses felt that Alexander was ready for discharge. We were all fairly surprised because everyone warned us to prepare for a several-day stay. Most cleft patients, we were told, suffer from extreme fever and usually refuse to eat for a day or so. Considering Alexander was begging for his favorite dairy snack minutes out of anesthesia, he was quite the unusual patient.
Incredibly, we were discharged and on our way by early afternoon. Alexander left with a ton of toy swag this time (thank you Child Life department!), and the nurses thanked us for being “reasonable parents.” Though I’m still not quite sure what that means, I think the fact that we didn’t yell at anyone and kept our child hydrated helped out quite a bit. Though I can’t blame them given the circumstances, I saw several other parents of patients either melting down or just completely hands-off with respect to their kid’s care.
After an uneventful ride home, Alexander ran around the livingroom in his “new” cuffs. We knew he’d have an early night– by dinnertime, he just collapsed on the floor like a limp noodle. I ran to Target to get some OTC meds for Alexander and received a text that the kid was snoring on the floor. A mere two hours later, I was the same way.
Though we still have our post-operative appointment in two weeks, it’s hard to believe that surgery is at an end for the foreseeable future. Alexander enjoyed his first Valentine’s Day at home instead of in the hospital, and we all breathed a sigh of relief to sleep in our own beds. We can’t thank you all enough for your support, love, and well-wishes for our little guy. He’s been an incredible trooper through it all, but your support has really helped carry us.